Saturday 19 September 2015

Into Istria: Pula, Rovinj and the Kamenjak Peninsula

Croatia, 15th – 18th September 2015

The Forum (one of Pula's main squares)
In the north of Croatia lies Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic sea.  Although a small part of it is over the border in Slovenia and Italy, most of the land is Croatian, and it’s where we’ve been spending the last few days.  Pula sits towards the southern end, and is the main city of the region with a strong tourist trade, no doubt helped along by its plethora of churches and Roman remains, such as a well preserved amphitheatre.

We received a tourist map of Pula from our campsite’s reception which had all of the main sites to see which was helpful (given that we saw the same map being used by others all over town, presumably it’s also the main map provided by the tourist office).  Buses run to the centre every 20 minutes for 11 kuna, but it’s around a 3km walk/cycle for anyone who is so inclined.  We took the bus, and the driver either
must be used to picking up people from the campsite or we must have had a bit of a dazed tourist look to us, because he made sure to let us know when we reached the stop for the city centre.

The Temple of Augustus
The entrance to Pula Castle

The majority of the sights to see are in Pula’s old town, which is a circular array of mostly pedestrianised streets surrounding a hill, on top of which sits the remains of the castle.  To the north of the old town is the amphitheatre, which you can go inside for a small entry fee (although we didn’t bother as you can see the majority of the inside from walking around the outside looking through the archways).  Pula itself is quite attractive, although the restaurants didn’t inspire a great deal of desire in us; most of them had the same repertoire of pasta, grill, salad, and the menus all came equipped with a  photograph of nearly every item; usually not a good sign.  Maybe we were just cranky from the weather (warm and humid after the downpour on the way into Pula), but we opted to wait until Rovinj for eating out.

Back at the campsite we spoke for a while to a couple from one of the British vans—Pete and Shirley—until they headed out for an evening meal.  They were in Croatia retracing the steps of their honeymoon, but have spent a lot of winters around Spain and Portugal having family ties there.  Perhaps we’ll bump into them again this winter!

Kamenjak Peninsula

South of Pula is the quieter town of Premantura, which is the last stopping point before the Kamenjak peninsula, a protected national park of forest and rocky beaches.  There are several ACSI campsites around here, and all of them are large ones with hundreds of spaces, presumably all owned by the same company as in Pula given that their email addresses are all part of Arena Turist.  After leaving Pula with an obligatory visit to Lidl—our latest leaflet had forewarned us of lots of goodies on offer in the bakery section—we travelled to Premantura and opted to stay at Camping Runke (GPS: 44.80806, 13.91818, ~121 kuna inc. tourist tax with ACSI discount) because it was cheaper and slightly smaller than the nearest site to the peninsula (250 instead of 900+ pitches).  We got parked up on a pitch that looked like it might have been used as a seasonal pitch by someone, with a little terrace area decorated with cacti.  It was a more basic site with cold dish washing water and sporadic electric points (our 25m cable just about reached the nearest), but given that it was peaceful and had free WiFi we can’t complain too much.

We cycled through Premantura and down to the Kamenjak peninsula, where there is a 13km walking and cycle track that for the most part follows the coastline.  I say cycle track with the loosest definition of the word, as the path was a bumpy, rocky track (pictured) that was often wide enough for just a couple of people to get through, so not a great deal of use if you get stuck behind a large group of people.  We didn’t get much further than a few kms in before we decided to call it quits and turn back as Matt’s bike only had road tyres.  If you’re in the area, don’t bother with bikes and walk it as the section we saw looked like the rest would make a very pleasant walking route; remember to bring a beach bag as there are lots of undeveloped small coves dotted about that would make a quiet spot to relax away from the hustle and bustle.


Our final point of call in Croatia was at Rovinj, which we’d heard from Steph was supposed to have some of the best pizza in Croatia.  Rovinj is a nice little town that lies east of Venice across the Venezian gulf, and it shows in the old town’s architecture.  On the approach to the old town from the north one of the first things you see is a street of multi-storey shuttered buildings right up to the water’s edge.  As you get into the streets, you find winding cobbled alleys navigable only by pedestrians and the odd scooter.  It’s quite a pretty little place and our favourite of the towns we visited in Croatia – definitely worth going for a look around.

On the pizza front, we did a quick search on Trip Advisor and lined up a few contenders in the pizzeria category.  The highest rated of which was Da Sergio, a small pizzeria in the old town just down the hill from the cathedral.  We’d read online that it practically always has a wait time, but the staff are accommodating and will serve drinks whilst you wait outside.  We didn’t get to find out if this was the case as we had no problems getting a table, probably because we weren’t visiting in peak season and arrived fairly early (before 7).  The menu has pages and pages of different pizzas, and it probably took longer for us to decide on what toppings to get than it took for the pizza to actually be prepared.  All in all, for two pizzas big enough to leave us feeling stuffed and a few drinks, the bill came to a little under 190 kuna (£19) – not too bad!  Whilst wandering Rovinj we also found an ice cream parlour, b052, with a huge range of different flavours that looked homemade.  Whilst it was a little more expensive than the going rate for other ice cream places we’d seen (10 kuna / scoop instead of 6/7), it was definitely worth it as the ice cream was thick and creamy and possibly some of the best we’ve tasted – enough that we came back the next day on our way out of town for another scoop each.  If you visit Rovinj, definitely keep your eyes peeled for it – and try White Chocolate!

Camping around Rovinj is a little trickier.  We found ourselves choosing between two large campsites nearby, one to the south and one to the north, both several kms away.  It's possible that there's nearer sites than this, but on our budget we opted to go for something from the ACSI book.  We chose the one to the north for the usual reasons (cheaper, smaller), Amarin Camping (GPS: 45.10397, 13.62230, €14 + €1 tourist tax p.p. at ACSI discount price).  It’s around 5km from the campsite to the town centre, which was fine for us on our bikes but perhaps not the best for travelling on foot (especially given that the road to the campsite is unlit at night).  The campsite itself is huge, with a complex that is half camping, half holiday apartments.  It had several restaurants, a small beach and the pool area has two rather posh large pools and a childrens pool.  It felt like another town by itself.  It was an alright campsite, reasonable for the price but not really that different to any of the other monster campsites we’ve seen.  One downside we noticed however was that we didn’t see a camper service point either in person or on the map.  Chemical toilet disposal was available at a lot of the toilet blocks, but there wasn’t a convenient place to get fresh water/dump the grey tank, which seems like a bit of an oversight for such a large campsite.

The view from our parking spot in northern Trieste
We’ve finished travelling in Croatia now, so Slovenia is the next on the list.  Slovenia’s coastline is pretty tiny relative to the country size – other than a small stretch with a handful of towns, the majority of what probably should have been its coastline is part of Italy.  For that reason, we cut straight through Slovenia to Trieste, Italy, to get parked up somewhere for free to give us a break from our campsite bills.  There’s an official sosta in Trieste, where you can pay €4 to park underneath the motorway – not really our cup of tea.  We instead went to a spot north of Trieste (GPS: 45.68250, 13.75138), where there are motorhome bays in a parking area overlooking the harbour.  Matt spotted a sign that said it was technically only day parking (until 9pm), but given that some of the vans look like they’ve been stored long term by the locals, I doubt it’s been a long time since that rule was enforced and we had no problems.

Our plans from here on out are to head back into Slovenia to check out the coastline before going inland.  We’d only really planned as far as Lake Bled in advance, but thanks to the help we received from Steph & Matt we now have a list of other recommended places to visit that sound interesting – time to take care of some route planning!

- Jo

More shots of Pula:

Arch of the Sergians
Typical street near the castle
'The Punishment of Dirce': This Roman floor mosaic is 2m
below ground level and was only uncovered by WW2 bombs
The streets get a little less orderly when you get away from
the main tourist area
This statue has everything I could possibly want in a statue.  Some guy
posing triumphantly?  Check.  Naked people?  Check.  Naked people in
strange, contorted positions?  I'm sure there's a political message, but...
If you think the dancing around trademarks
is bad for this place, just wait until you
see the design for facefood.

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